2021 – Brands as Agents of Change

2021 came in like a lion, but, with the inauguration behind us, there has come a collective sigh — a moment. In this moment, brands must invest time in setting strategy on how to prepare for increased activism and advocacy, championing causes that are meaningful to their consumers and society at large. Becoming agents of change.

Consider, for instance, the Super Bowl. For the first time in 37 years, Budweiser will not advertise during the live broadcast. Instead, the brand will put resources towards vaccine awareness campaigns. Their hope is to help support the reopening of restaurants and small businesses (their key stakeholders) by encouraging people to learn more about the vaccine.

This move, along with those of others like Coke and Pepsi, speaks directly to the fact brands are wielding their powerful influence to make impactful changes. It also speaks to the growth of a Davos 2021 focal point: stakeholder capitalism.

Brand Activism: Desirable, But Polarizing

Although data/behavior points towards consumers wanting to support and engage with brands that have purpose and are socially active, these decisions and actions can be highly polarizing. Sprout Social conducted a survey asking consumers why they want brands to take a stand. The primary reasons: they believe brands can create real change given they reach such large audiences and they are fundamentally more trusted than public officials and the news in many instances.

The causes that an organization supports — or opts not to — and the actions they take will largely define who their future customers, employees and investors are as people align to their own beliefs/value systems.

Let’s look at a recent post from Under Armor in response to the violent attacks on the Capitol.

While the feedback on Twitter was mixed, it was clear the brand felt confident with their decision to speak out. One reason for that confidence is the Brand’s clear set of values that are beautifully articulated below and map back to the positions they take publicly:

Wading Corporate Socio-Political Stances Deliberately

For brands pushing themselves to join the social advocacy or activism, they should expect a future of increased backlash and polarization from those who don’t share their views. They must wade into these waters authentically and deliberately, by consider the following:

In 2021, business will begin to be defined by societal action and impact — brands as agents of change.

This article was authored by Annie Perkins, Managing Director, Consumer & Health at sister company SHIFT Communications.

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